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In shift, Russia says Gaddafi must step down

In a diplomatic about-face, Russian president Dimitri Medvedev joins Europe and U.S. in calling for Gaddafi to step down in Libya and offers to mediate an agreement

In a diplomatic shift, Russia joined the rest of the Group of 8 largest industrialized nations in pressing for Muammar Gaddafi to step down, leaving the Libyan leader politically isolated.

President Dimitri Medvedev said Friday that he would use his political contacts with Gaddafi's government and with the rebels to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and agreed to send an envoy immediately to Benghazi to speak with the rebels, the New York Times reported.

According to the Guardian, Medvedev co-signed a statement issued by the G8 countries that was unequivocal:

"Gaddafi and the Libyan government have failed to fulfill their responsibility to protect the Libyan population and have lost all legitimacy. He has no future in a free, democratic Libya. He must go."

Medvedev's move came at the end of a G8 meeting in France, and represents a significant shift in Russia's position on the NATO-led mission in Libya, according to the New York Times. Russia was opposed to the NATO operation in Libya from the start, and the mission is not popular in the country. Though Russia didn't use its veto power to stop the action, the government has spoken out against it, saying that the air campaign overstepped the bounds laid out by a United Nations mandate to protect civilians. In addition, Russia has extensive arms-trading ties with Libya, which generate substantial revenue.

The shift in position is a significant gamble for Medvedev, the New York Times said. If Gaddafi were persuaded to leave, Russia would win international praise but would also have some responsibility for the Libyan leader's safety. If the effort is unsuccessful, Medvedev might have to get involved in the military offensive.

Earlier on Friday, a cease-fire offer from the Libyan government was rejected as inadequate, the Wall Street Journal said. Allied forces have intensified their attacks in Libya this week, Bloomberg News reported. U.S. President Barack Obama said he and French President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed at the G8 summit to “finish the job” in Libya. Gaddafi has been staying in hospitals in Tripoli to elude nighttime raids by NATO jets, a European government official said on Thursday..

The G8 includes the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Japan, Germany, Italy and Russia.